There’s a painful lack of innovation in direct response today. Traditionally, clients get the bum-end of this argument, as countless creatives belabour the lack of 'risk-taking' and 'courage' of today’s Marketing Managers. These same creatives pine for ‘ye good olde days’ of bigger balls, seven figure budgets and longer lead times. Oh please. Grow up. We're here to entice customers to buy something. Nothing more. If you still need 12 weeks and $3.50 a package to do that, you're a whinosaur. Yes, it does take time to craft a great headline, and build an original design. But any longer than 48 hours and you’ll start second guessing yourself and losing focus. So suck it up and get to work. Life’s too short, and reputations are shorter still.
OK, now let's look at the client side of the equation. Today's ‘shareholder-value’ reality is driving more inexperienced marketers into roles that frankly, they were never fully trained to master. Need some job shadowing, training, mentoring? No budget/time/desire. Need to know what strategies and tactics worked before? No IT resources to build the knowledgebase. Talk about being set up to fail! This Experience Vacuum results in useful historical learning and invaluable anecdotal data being obliterated. Can you really expect a Marketing Manager fresh from accounting, sales, or university to ‘go out on a limb’ for some creative idea she hasn’t been trained to effectively evaluate and nurture?
The salve to this pain has been to institute ‘The Brand Crutch’. You know what I’m talking about: the bible that standardizes the look and feel of all marketing initiatives to build brand consistency. Which is actually quite a worthy ideal. In the face of more advertising messages in more media than ever, a little familiarity through repetition will certainly build comfort and preference. But it won’t close a sale…it’ll only open the opportunity for a sale. This is a critical difference. A consistent brand message will get your foot in the door, but you’ll need some well-crafted sales messaging to persuade the customer to buy now. Think of brand as the logo on the nametag that a door-to-door salesman wears. If it’s a company you know and trust, you’ll be more likely to invite him into your home to receive his full sales pitch – which is all about offer, value positioning and urgency.
So, back to the premise at hand: direct response creative is in the doldrums due to slacker creative types and unsupported marketing managers with little experience or training. How to fix it? Start stripping. Peel a few layers off agency structure and process (or hire a smaller, hungrier agency), hire or train-up more qualified marketing managers, acknowledge the differences between brand awareness results and actual product sales. And yes, make sure you’ve got the right creative people on board.